Robot cells? Medicine of the near future

Inventions Contributor
Today's Focus
Robot cells
© Andrey Suslov |

Sometimes, just hearing the name of a new invention unleashes a vast ocean of conspiracy theories and terrible dystopian, Black Mirroresque visions of what this new technology might bring about. And it’s no surprise. It’s always the same with any sort of change or new invention.

For example, when portable phones just came out people started panicking over potential worsening of eyesight and hearing as a consequence of use, frequently proposing other frightening theories of the sort to back up their scepticism towards the novel technology.

The invention of Robot cells is no exception to the rule and certainly might appear quite intimidating upon first inspection. Nevertheless, the goals that Vermont & Tufts University researchers aim to achieve with these robotic cells are near-revolutionary in the areas of medicine, bio-engineering and other less expected fields.

The “Xenobot” or robot cells

But what are these robot cells anyway ? The Xenobots, as researchers called them, appear to be a very particular form of existence, nor robot nor living being, generated by a supercomputer and successfully brought into real life. You might be thinking of how dangerously close we seem to be getting to the movie Bladerunner, but rest assured, the danger is quite a way away.

Using cutting-edge technology, Vermont and Tufts researchers computer-generated a wide variety of models for the new Xenobot, one of which was certain to be brought to life.

Each model was carefully inspected and tested over and over. Those that brought the most locomotion with the least wasted effort were selected, compared and re-selected in multiple stages with a complex evolutionary algorithm until finally, a single champion emerged from the ashes of the fallen. Now, the real thing was on the way to be crafted.

One tedious task came to an end, but stitching together a 1mm life form was going to be another challenge.

After gathering somatic cells from an embryo of the African clawed-frog, which were left to incubate until ready, these otherwise called stem cells were then separated into skin and heart tissue, the latter of which would eventually act as a propelling mechanism for the Xenobot.

With the most delicate precision and the tiniest of surgical instruments, the scientists successfully sculpted together an actually functioning cell, capable of autonomous movement. That of which they’ve been dreaming for so long – The Xenobot.

What robot cells do?

Truly, this experiment was a success. Though now that we’ve managed to assemble a computer-generated ‘life form’, what can this Xenobot do for us except exist and arbitrarily propel itself it various directions ?

Scientists claim that Xenobots or robot cells, hopefully soon, will be capable of transporting medicine within the human body or floating through our veins and arteries, and cleaning out various clogging and plaque.

Outside of the medical field however, scientists have also found a curious application. They hypothesise that Xenobots can be eventually applied to eradicate types of radioactive waste, or likewise collecting rogue microplastics across sea and ocean surfaces.

Overall, it seems like these current applications are only the beginning of a whole new branch in medicine and maybe ecology. I believe the real fruit of this discovery will only be ripe in about 15-20 years from now, however that which we have is already most impressive.

Stay tuned for more curious and novel technological discoveries.


(Written by Hussein Al-Bahir)